Killing Time, Learning Spanish

Editor’s note: Former Harvard hurler Frank Herrmann ’06, a prospect with the Cleveland Indians, reported to camp in Winter Haven, Fla., in early March. This is his diary.

The end of my first week at the Indians’ spring training consisted of a lot of poking and prodding (and by poking I don’t mean getting “poked” on the Facebook by some creepy Joe from Eliot House).

The more than one hundred and fifty minor leaguers who reported to Winter Haven have had to endure endless testing, both psychological and physical.

Each player is required to provide urine and blood samples that test for everything from HIV to street drugs to steroids. We have also had to undergo eye tests, orthopedic testing, basic physicals, and a series of psychological group and one-on-one meetings with the team psychologist. Everyone seems to understand that the team wants to, in a sense, “value their assets,” but the main complaint is the enormous amount of downtime because of the seemingly arbitrary manner in which the tests are scheduled.

It has been interesting to witness the different ways that my teammates have decided to pass the downtime. Methods range from the trendy (PSPs, iPods, and Sudoku puzzles) to the time-tested (endless games of poker).

As for me, I have decided to pester some of my Latin lockermates by incessantly picking their brains in the hopes of learning Spanish. Of my practice group of nine, six players exclusively speak Spanish, one player exclusively speaks Korean, and the other is my roommate who I already have gotten to know well.

So I guess you could say it gets a little lonely.

However, I would be remiss if I were to say there were not selfish reasons for my wanting to learn the language. Over my short time in and around professional baseball it has become abundantly clear that knowledge of the Spanish language is a considerable advantage.

Excluding practice and on-field instruction, we have about two positional meetings a day. The meetings usually consist of an explanation in English followed by a translation to Spanish.

To be able to speak both languages immediately makes a prospective coach, or even a player, more attractive to an organization, as they can eliminate the need of an otherwise useless translator.

One reason I bring this up is the growing trend of Ivy League graduates filling front-office positions. Last year, newly named Tampa Bay Devil Rays team president Matthew Silverman ’98 joined the Rangers’ Jon Daniels (Cornell), the Red Sox’ Theo Epstein (Yale), and former Dodgers’ GM Paul DePodesta (Harvard) as the fifth former Ivy League graduate to run a major league team. Even the top dog of my team, Mark Shapiro, is a former Princeton Tiger.

Let’s face it: running a Big League club beats the heck out of I-banking in a cubicle the size of a closet. Most people would do it just for fun: more than 5 million people played fantasy baseball in the last year alone.

If you are in any way interested in getting involved in Major League Baseball in any capacity, I would strongly advise learning Spanish, Korean, Chinese or any foreign language in which the game of baseball is becoming increasingly popular.

Take the recent World Baseball Classic as an example of Major League Baseball’s intent to globalize America’s pastime.

Any wannabe Theo Epsteins out there should get themselves into an introductory language class (unless you are like me and wouldn’t touch the Monday through Friday classes). Otherwise, Morgan Stanley, here you come.

—Herrmann can be reached at fherrmann@fas.harvard.edu. His diary appears every Wednesday.

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